August 8, 2007

ThinkSmarter: Using folders to organize your email

To work smarter, you really need to keep well organized, and one way to do that is to use folders to keep your email inbox nice and clean.
When you use folders you really want to stick with a standard on how you want to organize your messages. You can organize by recipient, by topic of the email, by project, etc. but when you start to use too many forms of organization you will run in to problems finding the emails again because you won't know how you sorted that particular one.

Personally, I use folders based on Topic. So I have one folder for Current Projects, one for Completed Projects, one for Purchases, etc. Within those folders I use sub-folders to keep even more organized. So for instance; within my "Purchases" folder I will have a folder for each vendor I work with. And within the vendors folder I have a folder for "pending orders" "received orders" and one for "un-purchased quotes" This way I can look up any invoice from any vendor I have dealt with very quickly since I know where they are.

But to use folders effectively you need to actually get the mail from your inbox to its appropriate folders. Now if you only receive a few emails a day, reading them then manually putting them into their designated folders is ok. However if you are like me and receive over a hundred emails a day, this can get tedious. How do we solve this problem? Well, we can set up rules (the process for creating rules for your email varies depending on the software you are using to manage email).

The rules you create will obviously vary depending on how you decide to organize emails. If you are organizing email by sender, it's easy, you just create a rule that says "if sender = X, then move to folder X" It's simple you can also create rules that are based on the subject of emails. For instance it could be "If email subject contains "company party" than move to folder "company part". However this can become tricky since new events occur all the time and you would spend a lot of time just creating new rules, manual entry might be best for this.

In addition to the folders I mention above, I also have a few special folders. I have one that any emails with large (bigger than .5 MB) attachments on them will go to. I do this because my email also goes to my phone, and I don't want my phone to get bogged down with attachments, although I could configure my phone to do this filters, I like to keep all filters in the same place so when I need to change something I know where to look. I also have a folder called "non-urgent - non-problems" this is where I dump emails that people send me that are article they find interesting, or have a question that really is just general and not really urgent or a problem (like they want an opinion on a product). This lets me focus on the emails that need attention now and look at the others when I have some downtime, or just need a break from the problems.

Like everything else, one solution doesn't fit all, so find one that does fit. Folders can be a great help if used properly. They can also mess you up some if you over organize them (i.e. sort by different things)

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